Monday, May 19, 2008
Is It Really The End of The Road for Rhodes?
A picture of Marge Kinder and her great granddaughter, Erin at Rhodes Reunion
Thirty four years of reunions, detailed planning, rich history, tears for the lost, hugs for those left, memories, laughs, deep Tacoma love—these are the ingredients of the former Tacoma Rhodes Department Store employees who gather together annually. Rhodes, the business beacon and Tacoma icon, opened its doors in 1903 with a promise of great customer service, employee loyalty, and quality. The store delivered on those promises until its downtown doors closed at 11th and Broadway in 1974. Some employees followed the business to the Tacoma Mall under the new moniker, Liberty House (which eventually morphed into Frederick and Nelson). Others chose new paths; but one thing was clear; the Rhodes employees were committed to staying in touch with each other. My grandmother, Margaret (Marge) Kinder, believed in this commitment and served as an active member of the reunion committee since it’s inception and even chaired it for a couple of years. At 87, she still serves as the reunion luncheon “greeter,” party favor creator, membership detail, and a variety of other things. I got to see Grandma in action last year and again this year at the Elks Club in Tacoma on May 17th, where the reunion members, now in their 70’s and beyond, braved the heat wave and gathered to say hello to friends, and regrettably, goodbye to a long standing tradition.
And indeed they came. By car, taxi, long distances and short, and even one spirited lady came by motorcycle. Many ladies donned their crisp summer whites and all embraced the refreshing cool air of the interior of the Elks. I helped direct guests to the luncheon room and even personally escorted a lovely lady named Maude who reminisced with me about her Rhodes days and her upcoming 96th birthday. There were lots of hugs and good wishes with folks checking in on each other’s health and well being. The tables were cheery and like last year, the Rhodes historic photos, food menus, sales slips, and other memorabilia were carefully and lovingly displayed; yet despite that, more attention seemed to be focused on the sheer number of obituaries of former Rhodes team members who passed away over the year.
Dorothy Hayden, long time, hardworking committee chairwoman, welcomed guests and read aloud messages from those long time members who couldn’t make it due to illness or other commitments. Memories were shared from the podium: the sweet little lady who worked in the business office that got robbed and chased her assailant, the nightly toilet paper thief, Christmas whimsy, the dreaded “boss” that nobody liked (and no, that “boss” was not in attendance), wee bits of gossip, prayers, women’s successes in a male dominated business world and insightful business discussion of today’s current retail scene. A hearty lunch was served and a sweet little raffle was held that boasted ten winners. Sounds like a heartwarming and delightful event, right?
Yes and no. The reunion committee was looking for new folks to step up and take over the planning of this yearly event. This did not happen. And it may not. There were misty eyes, tearful embraces, and difficult goodbyes because the writing was on the wall. Hearts hung heavy. While Tacoma enjoys a current downtown revival, these retail pioneers and friends know that the history books are calling out their names for the final chapters.
It is with this, that I honor the Rhodes team of yesteryear. I honor them as a Tacoma citizen for the contribution to our history, our growth, and our business world. I honor them as a businesswoman, for paving the way for others and for recognizing the value in team work and quality. I honor them as a person, who respects and admires these fine generations of folks who truly care about each other and took pride in their work. Personally, I honor my grandmother for her energy and enthusiasm. While this may be the end of an era, it’s the beginning of a fine legacy that will continue to flourish for all of us.